Category Archives: Imagination For Resistance

Advocate for Net Neutrality

I tend to be a fan of the internet, and I am sure I am not alone. While the internet may have much unwholesome or offensive content, it is where many people find their news, gather recipes, post pictures of cats, and watch videos of teenage boys shooting fire works at each other. What’s not to love?

The world wide web is an expanse of information, entertainment, and innovation. It is here that many find outlets for their passions in the form of blogs, visual art, and crafts on sites like Tumblr and DeviantArt, and Etsy. It’s where aspiring musicians share their talent and seek exposure on platforms such as SoundCloud. And it is where many have sought to find financial support for their passion projects, or even physical needs, through crowd funding.

It stands as the only space where any individual can carve out his or her own niche. The beauty of the internet is that it is largely not owned by anyone. It is predominantly an unrestricted space for the exchange and sharing of ideas, art, information, and knowledge. Sure there is garbage and false information, but it is our responsibility as individuals to sift through that mess ourselves.  The internet is a near infinite resource!

In 2014, Kester Brewin re-released his book Mutiny!– Why We Love Pirates and How They Can Save Us for free online here. Originally published in 2012, Brewin made this work accessible online, no charge, in the interest of “enriching the commons.” His decision to release it into the public domain was to be in keeping with the premise of his book. The book covers the social and economic history surrounding piracy, the intent and development of copyright law, and the implications of sailing under the mark of a dead man. While I encourage you to take the time to read all seven chapters, it is Brewin’s discussion of the internet that spurred me on to tracking down Mutiny! this week. Brewin describes the internet as being the new “commons,” a space for the free exchange and cross-pollination of ideas and innovation. Brewin’s discussion mostly concerns Facebook and Google’s selling or sharing of their users’ personal information, and the development of algorithms that cater ads to one’s surmised personal interests. But today, I believe the greatest threat to the commons internet is not Google and Zuckerberg.

This Thursday May 18, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission will vote to move forward with rolling back net neutrality. The proposal comes to floor on behalf of chair of the FCC, Ajit Pai (who previously worked for Verizon). For those of you who are not aware, I’ll let John Oliver explain it best (warning: obscenities do ensue).

In brief, should the FCC remove the Title II classification from ISPs (Internet Service Providers), ISPs would be able to adjust internet speeds based on what you, the consumer use the internet for. For example, if you prefer to stream your favorite shows through Netflix rather than Hulu, and your ISP is Comcast, you may find that Netlix drags and doesn’t load at a viewable speed, while Hulu is lightening fast. Why would this be? Because Hulu is owned by NBC which is owned by Comcast. Your ISP would be able to inhibit you from surfing the web outside of what benefits that ISP. Similarly, if you’re a gamer, an ISP could slow your internet connection and then charge you more so you can play World of Warcraft.

“Dan, isn’t being concerned with your internet speed kind of a first-world gripe?” Fair enough. And my examples certainly pertain to leisure and luxury. But should ISPs no longer fall under Title II, what is to stop ISPs from charging outlandish prices to low income neighborhoods or regions, effectively stifling access to information and knowledge in those areas? Those in economically depressed areas such as rural Appalachia or inner city Philadelphia could be hindered from resources they’d otherwise have access to. ISPs would have to the power to prevent networks and online communities from developing. Imagine if Verizon effectively killed social networks and online communities like Facebook and Reddit because they refused to be bought out by the ISP.

I can’t say this enough. We should be wary of any thing that potentially prohibits the general populace from accessing information. Watch for those policies that would preserve ignorance among certain demographics.

It has been argued by those in favor of these rollbacks that the removal of Title II classification would stimulation competition among ISPs in the “free market” fashion. In light of this, I have an experiment for you:  Call an ISP that is other than the one you currently have and ask for quotes to service you area. Give them your address and what not. I suspect you will find that this other ISP does not service your address. Why? Because often times, regions and neighborhoods only have one or two ISPs. Verizon and Comcast rarely service the same city block. Where is the alleged “free market” when where you chose to live effectively selects your ISP and that ISP has no reason to offer competitive rates?

If you use the internet, and here you are reading my online blog, you should research net neutrality. I’ve added some links to help you all out.

 

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Messiahs… I’ve Followed a Few: What Movie Should You Watch on Good Friday?

Holy Week is upon us! Tomorrow, those of us who identify with the Christian tradition will contemplate the execution of Jesus of Nazareth by crucifixion, at the hands of the Roman Empire.
In 2017, we are quite removed from the world of first century Palestine. While many of us church goers are confident we know what the Roman world was like in Jesus’ day, there are some important political and social details that are often neglect in the average Sunday sermon. After all, it was 2000 years ago and half a world away.
But Fear not, friends! There exists a film that captures all you need to know about the history surrounding Jesus’ ministry, arrest, and execution. And no I am not talking about Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Forget that violence-and-gore glorifying movie with all of its historical inaccuracies and Anglo-looking first century Jews. Oh no, the film I suggest you all watch is so much closer to the realities of first century Palestine… with a slight flair of dry British humor.
Friends, before you attend that Good Friday service, I suggest you all watch…
The Life of Brian.
Monty Python’s The Life of Brian is a rich satire that follows the life of… well, Brian. Brian, born on the same night as a baby named Jesus, is a young man growing up in first century Palestine in the shadow of Roman occupation. Upon finding out that he is the result of his Jewish mother’s romantic entanglement with a Roman centurion, Brian retaliates by joining “The People’s Front of Judea,” which is not to be confused with the “Judean People’s Front.” Through various flukes and misadventures, Brian is mistaken for the Messiah, and a movement grows around him.
The film is full of the irreverent humor that is to be expected from Monty Python and I for one think it walks a very a delicate line. But the brilliance of The Life of Brian is rooted in the historicity of Brian’s mistaken messianic title. At one moment in the film, Brian is surrounded by his crowd of would-be disciples and protests vehemently that he is not the messiah. In response, character played by John Cleese responds “I say you are, Lord. And I should know, I’ve followed a few.” The line reflects Monty Python’s thorough knowledge of first century Palestine, which I suspect can be attributed to most of the troupe having received a classical education at Oxford and Cambridge. But for the rest of us, let’s get caught up to speed with Eric Idle and the gang.
During the first century, the Jews lived under Roman occupation. Romans were only the most recent in what had played out as six centuries of a rotating door of empires conquering and oppressing the Jewish people. The clearest representation of this oppression was that the Romans built Antonia Fortress immediately adjacent to the Temple. Not only that, but the walls of the fortress were such that Roman soldiers could observe what was taking place within the temple grounds. The Temple was the center of Jewish life, and three times throughout the Jewish year the Jews were supposed to make a pilgrimage to the Temple. With such a multitude of oppressed and disgruntled people all gathering at their holiest of locations on their holiest of festivals thrice a year, the position of Antonia Fortress was both tactical as well as symbolic. The towering walls seemed to proclaim “Remember who is really watching you, and it ain’t your god.”
As the Jews were conquered and re-conquered by the Babylonians, Persian, Greeks, and finally the Romans, there developed a notion amongst the Jews that God would send God’s people a divinely empowered leader; God would send them a Messiah (I should write on this development in later post!). While in the twenty first century, we instinctively attribute the “Messiah” with the Incarnation of God, the Jews during the Second Temple period (beginning in 530BCE with the reconstruction of the Temple) made no such association. For the Jewish people, the Messianic expectation meant looking forward to a powerful monarch and military leader that would rise up and rally God’s people, then kick the Romans out of Judea. This same Messiah would re-establish Israel to its glory days as an economic and military super power under Kings David and Solomon.
As this was the case, by Jesus’ day, there had been many self-proclaimed messiahs. These individuals were freedom fighters who sought to liberate their people from oppression. In Acts 5:33:-39, while advocating for letting the Apostles live, the Pharisee Gamaliel describes two such leaders who were executed and their movements scattered. Gamaliel says “If this plan or undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them.”
Self-proclaimed Messiahs were not uncommon, which is why I laughed until I hurt at Cleese’s remark “I’ve followed a few.”
Is it any wonder then why Jesus counted one Simon the Zealot (Luke 6:15) as a disciple? When the Jews heard Jesus of Nazareth proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven, they had a very concrete idea of what that kingdom was going to look like and how it would be brought about. There would be a revolution, and the Romans would get clobbered out of Judea! How glorious it would be!
Only it wasn’t.
Only, Jesus spoke of loving enemies.
Only, when this Messiah was arrested and one of his own drew a sword and cut the ear from one of Jesus’ captors, this Messiah rebuked his disciple and healed the wounded one who would arrest him. This Messiah was not the
On the first Good Friday, the Jews bring Jesus before the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, and insist he be charged with treason for calling himself King of the Jews. “He stirs up the people all throughout Judea” (Luke 23:5). Jesus, they imply, is another messiah that is dangerous to Roman power.
Pilate gives them a choice: free Jesus or free Barabbas. According to Luke’s gospel, Barabbas has been thrown in prison for two things: starting an insurrection in the city, and murder. Insurrection? Could Barabbas be a freedom fighter, a patriot of Israel? Is he another Messiah? Could it be that on the first Good Friday, God’s own people were choosing which Messiah they wanted to lead them?
I think so.
It seems to me that when given a choice between a Messiah who insisted on loving and praying for His enemies, and a Messiah that would swing the sword in bloody revolution, God’s people chose a violent Messiah.
How often do we desire the same? How often do we want to forget that Jesus did not wage war as other revolutionaries waged war? How often do we want Jesus to be more like this messiah Barabbas?
Tomorrow, on Good Friday, I want to reflect Christ’s crucifixion. And I’m sure with many others across the Church, I’ll sing the words of that famous hymn “It was my sin that held him there/ until it was accomplished.”
While those lyrics are all well and good, I do not want to forget that 2000 years ago at a Roman trial, the specific sin that sent Christ to a Roman crucifixion was that God’s people chose violence. The people that were blessed to bless other nations chose a revolutionary carrying a sword and raising clenched fist over a servant carrying a washing basin and offering a healing hand.
Messiahs… I’ve followed a few. But only one told me to drop my sword.

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Imagination for Resistance: An Incomplete Pseudo-Syllabus

My goodness, friends, it has been a good while since I last posted. And much has happened. Here we are in a new year with a new president and administration. And like everyone else, I have thoughts, opinions, and furious tirades. And we may get to those in the coming months. But today, I have some cool news.

If you check out the side menu to the right of this post, you’ll find… wait for it… a subscription box!!! That’s right folks! You can now subscribe to Noggin Squall and get the latest posts sent right to your inbox! Exciting stuff. Go get yourself subscribed.

As I look towards 2017, I am not filled with much optimism. I do not have any inspiring words about new beginnings, resolutions, or existential sentiments about what the future may hold. No, dear readers, I have some concerns.

The Trump administration has sat in the White House for several weeks now, and in that span, Time.com released a list of the federal agencies which the Trump administration is hoping to defund. At the top of the list are the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (the entity that funds PBS and NPR). And as recently as February 3 (the Friday prior to this post going live), the new Chairmen of the Federal Communication Commission Ajit Pai halted investigations concerning net neutrality violations on the part of AT&T and Verizon.

From where I sit, these are signs of an administration that is determined to impede the masses’ access to information, free educational resources, and the means for each individual to think for his or herself. Such announced intentions on the part of an administration that insist we swallow “alternative facts” is disconcerting at best. Or perhaps they are the textbook motions of fascists undermining the average citizen’s ability to see through the bullshit. Call me paranoid. Call me a conspiracy theorist. Call me a crazed, sore loser of a liberal (this last one would make my liberal friends smirk, I’m sure).

In light of this potential disempowering of the 99%, Noggin Squall will largely be concerned with sharing the resources that help us see the world differently. A public composed of individuals capable of seeing the world beyond political polarities is threatening to those who walk the halls of power. To put a finer point on it: Imagination breeds Resistance.

With that in mind, I would like to introduce you all to…

Imagination for Resistance: An Incomplete Pseudo-Syllabus

Over the course of this year, I will be interacting with books, films, and people that (I hope) will prompt us to expand our perceptions, feed our imaginations, and appreciate how folks from the margins have interpreted their context and experience through genre. If you’ve taken a college course, you’ll soon realize that the syllabus I am assembling is flexible, incomplete, and not necessarily a true syllabus. C’est la vie. But let me take a crack at it.

Purpose: To provide fodder for the imagination through alternative perspectives. Let’s learn together to think critically, creatively, and passionately.

Textbooks: These texts are divided into two sections. First are sci-fi/fantasy books written by folks who are not white men. And the second section are different theologies within the Christian Tradition that are largely outside the mainstream theologies of Protestant churches.

Section 1:

Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed, 2012; science-fiction from a Muslim perspective.

God’s War: Bel Dame Apocrypha by Kameron Hurley, 2011; science-fiction from a feminist perspective.

King Maker by Maurice Broaddus, 2010; fantasy from a black perspective. (Specifically, this is retelling of the Arthurian legend in the context of inner-city Indianapolis).

The Book of the New Sun and Urth of the New Sun, both by Gene Wolfe, 1994/1997; (while Wolfe is another white male fantasy author, he is phenomenal. I’m compelled to include him because his perspective as a convert to Catholicism informs arguably one of the most well-crafted works of sci-fi/fantasy in existence).

Section 2:

The Priestly Kingdom: Social Ethics as Gospel by John Howard Yoder; 1985.

A Theology of Liberation: History, Politics, and Salvation by Gustavo Gutierrez; 1971.

Heart of the Cross: A Postcolonial Christology by Wonhee Anne Joh; 2006.

There’ll be some films and books beyond this list. Some posts will be specifically designated as Imagination for Resistance, while others will be Minor Spoilers or Slice of Life, Salt of the Earth. Yet I hope all of my posts will be that imagination fodder.

If any of you have any suggestions, reflections, or comments, I would appreciate hearing them all. I will be reading these books throughout the year, and then some.

Thanks for reading.

P.S. Maurice Broaddus’ Buffalo Soldier is being released in April of this year, and it is his take on the steampunk genre. Sound intriguing? I think so too.

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